I enjoyed the rhythm of the book and, because there was such a large cast of major characters, had to read it slower than usual – normally I used to read very quickly. I deliberately slowed down my reading some years later when it was becoming too expensive. When my children were young I used to walk the mile or so into Lowestoft and never failed to come back with a book or two a few times a week. It was all I bought for myself, I couldn’t afford clothes and mostly wore my mother’s cast-offs. When Weeza was in her teens, I wore her cast-offs. I was unwise enough to work out a rough and ready budget once and was very pleased to see that the books balanced almost exactly, until I noticed that I’d allowed nothing for clothes. Nor for holidays, but that was all right because we never took them, not for several years.
That was long in the future, of course. I read War and Peace, that first time, over several weeks and immersed myself in the stories of Natasha and Pierre, of the Napoleonic invasion, of life and death and privation and riches. I’ve come back to it several times since though there was a long gap, probably twenty years, before I read it most recently.
A year or so after reading the book for the first time, I got a Saturday job in Lowestoft Borough Library. It was my dream job, really. It must have been 1971. 1970 had been horrendous, starting in January with the death of my father, going on to the evaluation of all my parents’ possessions so that my mother could pay Death Duties on everything, the collapse of a company (after the share values had been taken into account, unfortunately) that my father had a fair bit of money invested in because he was supporting a friend who worked there, which left my mother severely strapped for cash, then a serious accident to my sister who spent weeks in hospital as a result. There’s a lot about the year that I’ve forgotten, but there were a couple of upsides. One was meeting the Sage – the Sprout as he then was – for the first time and the other was first tasting samphire.